In right back Scott Sutter’s mind, the philosophy that guides of Orlando City’s back line is simple: Concede fewer goals.
“That’s got to be the motto of the whole season,” Sutter during Orlando City’s preseason. “From everyone, not just the back line, but the whole team. As a unit, we’re strong and we know that. That’s why we are putting a lot of work in defensively.”
The Lions conceded 58 goals last season. Not quite as bad has Minnesota United’s staggering 70 in 2017, but still tied for sixth-most in MLS.
For Sutter – and for the rest of Orlando City’s newly-constructed back line – things are a work in progress.
The “unit” Sutter’s talking about includes more than a dozen new faces. The team’s back line now includes right back RJ Allen, left back Mohammed El-Munir and new center backs Lamine Sané (signed from Bundesliga side SV Weder Bremen) and Amro Tarek.
New faces mean plenty of competition.
“We see that everyone is close to each other,” El-Munir said. “There’s no big difference. There’s a lot of challenge between every player in the same position. The point is, the good thing is everyone is doing well.
“Who’s going to play doesn’t matter. Our goal is we want to do well in the results and in the field. I think we’re doing very well.”
Things worked out well during Orlando City’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United, particularly for El-Munir, who made a match-saving play by running down United forward Darren Mattocks.
Still, the Lions let in a goal off a set piece, which means there’s room for improvement, captain and center back Jonathan Spector said.
“I think it was a poor goal to give away from a set play,” Spector said Tuesday. “We didn’t give away many of those last season, so we can improve upon that, definitely.”
Orlando City (0-0-1, 1 point) returns to action at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday against Minnesota United (0-1-0, 0 points).
Throughout preseason training, head coach Jason Kreis said communication is what the back line needed to work on. He said things improved as the preseason went on, and El-Munir said things improved as players got used to each other.
For El-Munir, it was about finding his voice. The Libyan defender was with Serbian SuperLiga club Partizan Belgrade before signing with Orlando City.
“Where I come from, I don’t speak a lot,” El-Munir said. “The one who is going to talk all the time is the goalkeeper. He sees all of the field. After that, the center backs because they’re the second after the goalkeeper who are going to lead us in how we move.
“The point is, everyone must speak. Everyone must communicate together. You have to speak. Everyone must help each other because if you’re on the right side, I can see much better than the right back or the center back, so I have to talk. It’s like that.
“I think a few more games and they’ll be able to talk all game.”
Kreis was particularly pleased after the preseason acquisition of Sane and said the French Senegalese defender turns the center back group into a strength for the Lions.
Tarek said the competition among the defenders is bringing the players closer together – and added he worked on his own communication level throughout the preseason.
“I think game by game, training by training we’re getting better and better,” Tarek said. “We’re getting adjusted to each other.”
Spector stressed collective defending. He and left back Donny Toia, who saw time at center back during a scrimmage against the Chicago Fire, are the team’s two returning back line veterans.
“We’ve made some great additions, not just on the back line but all over the field,” he said. “I think we’ll be more solid defensively this season. Not just the back four and the goalkeeper, but in the midfield and up to the strikers, you know, it’s everyone’s job to defend.”
Spector said he knows who will get the blame when the opponent finds the back of the net.
“When it goes wrong, though, the defenders get the blame,” he said with a laugh.
Speaking seriously, he added, “I think the players we have will keep the ball more. We won’t have to defend for long stretches like we did last season. That’ll certainly relieve the pressure from us.”